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Indigenous Rights Reversal
Decree May Cause Violence on Indigenous Lands

In early 1995, the Brazilian government indicated that it intended altering the process by which Indigenous territories are demarcated (see WRR31 p.15). Despite widespread opposition from within Brazil and from international organisations, the Cardoso government has now passed a new law which impedes indigenous peoples rights as guaranteed in Brazils 1988 constitution.has taken a giant step backward in indigenous peoples rights. The just-signed Decree no.1775 delays the demarcation of new indigenous reserves, and challenges the legitimacy of existing ones." says Beto Borges, the Rainforest Action Networks Amazon Campaign Coordinator. "This will likely cause a new assault on the Yanomami territory by gold miners and other commercial interests, and may lead to violence. Its the Wild West all over again, this time in the rainforests of Brazil. We must do all we can to overturn this potentially genocidal law."

Brazilian Minister of Justice, Nelson Jobim, maintained that Decree 22/91, which previously regulated the demarcation of indigenous territories, was unconstitional on the grounds that it did not allow third parties such as miners and ranchers to formally state their opposition to indigenous land claims.

Decree 1775 compromises the already slow process of establishing indigenous reserves by permitting commercial interests to challenge the demarcation of Indian land. This parallels the United States of the 1800s, when government actions forced Native Americans from their traditional lands to allow for commercial extraction of the timber, oil, minerals, and other resources. Decree 1775 is likely to lead to new encroachments onto the gold-rich land of the Yanomami people, who have struggled for years against outside development. In 1993, machete-wielding miners set on exploiting the regions gold deposits invaded a Yanomami village and murdered sixteen Indian adults and children. Over two hundred other indigenous reserves in Brazil face similar challenges.

The Yanomami held an assembly this week to organize resistance to politicians and economic interests that are working to annul Yanomami land rights. The Indians also decried the devastating effects of continued invasion by gold miners who pollute the rivers and forests, and introduce disease. Since 1987, nearly twenty-five percent of the Yanomami population has been wiped out by contagions carried by the unwanted colonists.

Article 231 of Brazils constitution recognizes the inalienable right of indigenous people to their ancestral lands and natural resources, and guarantees their right to exist as distinct cultures. 1991s Decree no. 22 strengthened the language of the constitution by further delineating the primacy of indigenous rights over competing interests, and enforcing the demarcation of indigenous reserves based on aboriginal habitation.

Decree 1775, signed into law by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on January 8, reverses the tenets of Decree no.22 by allowing commercial interests to protest the demarcation of indigenous lands. This undermines the rights of the indigenous people to their traditional lands as promised in the constitution, and could take the natural resources --which the local communities depend on for survival -- out of indigenous control.

The San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is working with several groups in Brazil who have called for the repeal of Decree 1775, including Brazilian Forum in Defense of Indigenous Rights, Commission Pro-Yanomami, Instituto Socio Ambiental, and CAPOIB, a confederation of Indian organizations.

Source: Rainforest Action Network, 25 Jan 1996

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